As fashion licensors, licensees and retailers from all over the world descend on Las Vegas for the MAGIC trade show, here are five trends that are driving the licensed apparel market.

April 6, 2018

8 Min Read

Click here to view this article as it appeared in the August print issue.


Successful licensed apparel programs require the perfect concoction of standout brands, high-quality licensees and retail support. Nowhere is the coalescence of these elements more prominently on display than at the bi-annual MAGIC event, taking place Aug. 17-19 in Las Vegas, Nev.

The collection of 11 trade shows–WWDMAGIC, Project, The Tents at MAGIC, Project Womens (previously ENKVegas), FNPlatform, WSA@MAGIC, Pool Trade Show, The Collective, CurveNV@MAGIC, Playground and Sourcing at MAGIC–spans the full spectrum of the fashion industry.

Of particular interest to the licensing community is the Sourcing show, which this year will be presenting a number of special events and seminars focusing on the new arena of wearable technology, an area of growing interest for fashion brands. An interactive exhibit area will feature a treadmill and prototype garments from the North Carolina State College of Textiles such as stretchable electronics that can be screen-printed onto fabrics and compression shirts with integrated dry electrodes for electrocardiogram monitoring.

The increased penetration of technology into every aspect of consumers' lives is only one of the emerging trends that is currently shaping both the fashion and licensing industries.

Here are five more developments to keep an eye on.

Looking to China

U.S. and European executives have long viewed China as an area with great potential for international expansion. Now, more licensors than ever before are taking the plunge and entering the world's most populous market. (Recent volatility in the Chinese stock market looks unlikely to slow this trend, with analysts predicting a minimal impact on retail sales. Source: China Market Research Group.)

There is perhaps no better indicator of the demand for American brands in China than the recent decision by, one of China's largest e-commerce sites, to launch a "U.S. Mall" in July. The new section features authentic, imported goods from a range of U.S. companies and joins similar, previously launched sales channels for goods from Australia, France, Japan and Korea. Among the brands already available on are Converse, Samsonite, Sephora, eyewear licensee Luxottica and several of Global Brands Group's apparel properties including Nautica Kids and the Jeep lifestyle label. At the same time, also revealed that pop star Taylor Swift is planning a new branded fashion line that she will develop exclusively for the platform.

Also in July, Walmart took full ownership of the Chinese e-commerce site (and competitor) Yihaodian, another strong indicator of the rising value of Eastern consumers to retailers and brands alike.

Beyond e-commerce, a number of other brands have recently entered the Chinese market through partnerships with regional licensees or retailers.

The Hong Kong-based fashion retailer Bauhaus, in partnership with Oxford Limited, debuted a University of Oxford-inspired capsule collection in June and is planning a full line that will launch this fall.

Also in June, Saban Brands appointed the Grand Union International Trading Company as the master licensee and retailer of the Paul Frank brand in China, Hong Kong and Macau–the largest deal in the brand's history. The Paul Frank brand already boasts 100 standalone stores across China, with an additional 500 set to open under the new deal, as well as branded cafés.

The Name Game

Shakespeare may have said there was nothing to a name, but he didn't live in our information-saturated world. Aligning with a hot celebrity, artist or athlete is a tried and true way for brands to stand out from the pack. Now the market is seeing a wave of celebrities who are taking the next step and launching labels of their own.

In addition to Taylor Swift's upcoming apparel line for, other celebrities who have recently entered the lifestyle space include:

  • Soccer star and fashion icon David Beckham has teamed with Global Brands Group to develop the lifestyle brand Seven Global.

  • Comedian and TV host Ellen DeGeneres launched her lifestyle label, ED, on a standalone e-commerce site in July. Created in collaboration with manufacturing partner J. Christopher Burch (co-founder of Tory Burch), the line includes homewares and apparel.

  • Actress Eva Longoria announced a new partnership with Sunrise Brands to create an eponymous fashion label that will launch in fall 2016.

And it's not just celebrities that are leveraging their name recognition to enter the lifestyle space. The approach has been equally successful for corporate brands.

MAGIC3.jpgGoodyear just launched a line of men's footwear with SCL Footwear Group and will debut a vintage clothing line for spring/summer 2016, both of which draw on the brand's heritage and association with durability. Meanwhile, Pan Am has jumped on the current demand for retro brands with forays into a range of lifestyle categories, most recently in a partnership with Austria's Flug Zeug for belts inspired by the defunct airline's seatbelts.

At the same time, big names from the past that still carry weight are readying for their second act. Foundry Brands is planning to re-launch the '80s streetwear label B.U.M. Equipment in the U.K. and Europe in 2016; and Bluestar Alliance just acquired the trademark for retailer Limited Too, which it plans to reboot with a comprehensive lineup of tween fashion products.

High Fashion Collabs

Characters are taking the high road in a recent slate of high-fashion collaborations between big-name designers and top licensors.

Consider these recent pairings:

  • MAGIC6.jpgDreamWorks unveiled a limited edition collection at New York Fashion Week Men's in July that saw eight CFDA fashion designers put their own spin on classic characters including Where's Waldo?, Richie Rich, Felix the Cat and He-Man.

  • Knitwear designer Markus Lupfer gave Mickey Mouse the sequin treatment in a new line based on images from Disney's archives.

  • Twentieth Century Fox Consumer Products and Neff Headwear recently partnered for a limited edition collection featuring "The Simpsons."

  • U.K. fashion brand Hype unveiled a range inspired by Nickelodeon's "SpongeBob SquarePants."

  • ITV Studios Global Entertainment is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the classic TV series "Thunderbirds" with three men's fashion collaborations: Lou Dalton for knitwear; Turnball & Asser for handkerchiefs and ties; and Fashion Lab for outerwear and nightwear.

Tuning In

Entertainment has always provided fodder for unique, timely fashion collaborations, and with the rise in the quality and quantity of television programming, those partnerships are taking on an interesting new tenor.

MAGIC7.jpgThese collections go well beyond basic logo-slapping and instead aim to embody the essence of the series' story and characters. TV series also offer licensees and retailers the added advantage of longer lifecycles, remaining on the airwaves–and in front of consumers–oftentimes for years.

Perhaps one of the best recent examples of this is Knockout Licensing's work on behalf of Sony Picture Television's historical drama, "Outlander." Set in the Scottish highlands, Sony and Knockout have developed proprietary tartans for the families and clans depicted in the series that are officially registered with the Scottish Register of Tartans. Apparel licensee The Celtic Croft has then used those tartans to create a range of authentic, innovative products including kilts, shawls and tams. Fellow "Outlander" licensee AbbyShot has also created a line of coats, scarves, cloaks, bags and cowls that offer a modern take on the 18th century fashions in the show.

Twentieth Century Fox is working with higher-end retailers and designers for an upcoming line based on its runaway hit "Empire." Product will begin to launch in conjunction with the series' second season this September with a measured program that aims to establish the brand as a lifestyle label.

This spring, Hot Topic launched fashion lines for two of television's cult hits–Temple Street Productions' "Orphan Black" and Showtime's "Penny Dreadful." Both shows have strong visual identities that the teen retailer carefully translated into fashion-forward collections.

Opening Up Shop

Despite the ever-growing prominence of e-commerce, many brands are finding that a classic brick-and-mortar presence is still essential in building and maintaining a powerful brand profile.

Brand manager Xcel (owner of fashion labels such as Isaac Mizrahi and Judith Ripka) just took a stake in the retail game with the acquisition of J. Christopher Burch's bankrupt retail chain C. Wonder.

Powerhouse licensee Li & Fung announced plans in June to open 300 stores in China in partnership with two of the country's largest retail groups–Shanghai Bailian Group and Beijing Wangfujing Department Store. Li & Fung plans to design, source and produce a host of private labels for its stores, which will also carry a range of licensed brands.

Skechers recently launched a first-of-its-kind concept store in partnership with the hypermarket chain Meijer in Michigan. The 804-square-foot shop-within-a-shop will serve as a pilot for the new concept, which may eventually be expanded to other stores.

Finally, the fitness apparel and equipment brand Everlast will open three branded stores in the U.S. for the first time in its 105-year history. The company hopes the brick-and-mortar locations will help to bring its brand experience to consumers.

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